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Run 'N' Shoot: Home for the Holidays?

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

Are you home for the fantasy playoffs like Chris Liss is? Why? What can we take away from this NFL season and apply to our fake games for next year? Let's start by taking a look at the top 20 running backs on Rotowire's current CheatSheet:

1. Le'Veon Bell
2. DeMarco Murray
3. Eddie Lacy
4. Arian Foster
5. Marshawn Lynch
6. Matt Forte
7. C.J. Anderson
8. Jamaal Charles
9. Justin Forsett
10. LeSean McCoy
11. Mark Ingram
12. Alfred Morris
13. Tre Mason
14. Joique Bell
15. Lamar Miller
16. Ryan Mathews
17. Dan Herron
18. LeGarrette Blount
19. Knile Davis
20. Jeremy Hill

Anything jump out at you here? For me, about half of these names were expected, perhaps not in the order they're in, but we all predicted them to finish in the top 20 - Bell, Murray, Lacy, Foster, Lynch, Charles, and McCoy. That's seven of the 20 - seven studs who did what we drafted them to do. If you drafted one of these guys, you're happy.

Alfred Morris, Joique Bell, and Lamar Miller didn't lead you to the promised land, but they've done about what we predicted in August. That makes 10 - half of the 20 - that returned roughly their draft-day value.

The other 10, though, came out of nowhere to varying degrees. C.J. Anderson was free in almost every league yet has been better than anyone besides Bell over the last month. Forsett went from career journeyman to RB1. Ingram has been a solid fantasy starter except when he was hurt. Mason emerged as the Rams best back. Herron became an RB2 when Ahmad Bradshaw went down. Knile Davis has been great when Jamaal Charles has been shelved.

So what do we make of these results? Do they support going RB-zero next year? Before we answer that, let's look at the top-20 RBs as of August:

1. Jamaal Charles
2. LeSean McCoy
3. Adrian Peterson
4. Matt Forte
5. Marshawn Lynch
6. Eddie Lacy
7. Arian Foster
8. Doug Martin
9. DeMarco Murray
10. Le'Veon Bell
11. Zac Stacy
12. Alfred Morris
13. Montee Ball
14. Giovani Bernard
15. Reggie Bush
16. Ben Tate
17. Ryan Mathews
18. C.J. Spiller
19. Frank Gore
20. Toby Gerhart

Six of the top seven look great, but otherwise? Ugh. A lot of ugliness here. Peterson lost his mind. Stacy lost his job; so did Tate. Gore lost his battle with father time. Montee Ball lost ... errr ... he never had anything at the NFL level to lose. Spiller never fit into the Bills new offense. Gerhart, well, he was never in my top 20. I know first-hand how miserable it was to own Bush, though, as he was just bad enough to crush you but not bad enough (for deeper formats) to outright cut. That made him arguably the worst guy on this list - someone you couldn't cut but who just hogged a roster spot much of the year - a wretched combination for leagues with shallow benches.

So what's the takeaway here? RB-zero for 2015? Who's right, the guys who advocate drafting the stud RB because if you get the right one, you have such an advantage over everyone else? Or the guys who argue for drafting other positions, as RBs will become available on waivers over the course of the year? Doesn't the right answer depend on the extent to which the RB breakouts and busts were predictable?

Look at C.J. Anderson, for instance. It's certainly not shocking that a back on the high-scoring Broncos emerged. It's equally unsurprising that Gore and Bush succumbed to father time and that Stacy, a 5th-round talent, lost his job to a more talented back.

But even though these answers were predictable, could you predict when the change would happen? I owned Anderson everywhere in early October but nowhere when it mattered most. And look at a guy like Forsett. He'd never done anything to remotely suggest this breakout was coming, and projecting Ray Rice's career collapse or the Ravens offensive line becoming PFF's top-rated run-blocking unit would have been next-to-impossible.

For me, the right answer for 2015 will be to try to get one stud RB around whom to build my team, but to otherwise punt the position and build through waivers. A hedge? Maybe. But if half of the early-round RBs pan out, then I'll try to hit on one, but since half are busts, then I don't want to get burned twice.

Jimmy Graham spent much of the 2014 offseason arguing he was a wide receiver, then most of the season proving he is a tight end. His recent production has been alarming, but the real red flag happened much earlier. Check out Graham's YPR in 2014 - 10.2, after posting a 14.1 YPR in 2013. Why can't Graham get downfield? Has his shoulder been bothering him all year? Is Drew Brees showing signs of decline? Or is Brees' inconsistency a result of Graham being hurt, circa Tom Brady, September 2014? These are significant questions both for the rest of this year and Graham's 2015 fantasy ranking, so I'll be looking closely for any signs of an answer.

The Redskins say they're starting Colt McCoy this week, not Robert Griffin III. For the love of God, why? With so much invested in Griffin, and such an important decision looming on whether to keep him for 2015, isn't it imperative to see what Griffin can do these last three games? I can't stand watching franchises make this mistake. The Jets did it with Geno Smith, starting Michael Vick for several games. Why? Vick isn't taking them anywhere, but you have to decide Smith's role for 2015 and beyond. The Bills are making the same mistake with EJ Manuel. Yes, Kyle Orton has been an upgrade over what Manuel did in September. But the Bills aren't making the playoffs, so why not get three more games of data on Manuel, particularly since you don't have a first round pick in 2015 with which to take a quarterback?

I've talked a lot about 2015 so far, but if you're out of the 2014 fantasy playoffs, you need not wait that long. Instead, hop on DraftKings or FanDuel and enjoy some daily fantasy. DraftKings Millionaire contest is up again this week, and as I've done a few times recently, here are some cheap options I'll be plugging into lineups in the hopes of finding that million-dollar combination.

Yes, some of these suggestions will look ugly on Monday morning, but that's why their salaries are so low. (Do you really need me to tell you to start Le'Veon Bell or Matt Forte?) Besides, if you're going to beat 80,000 other lineups, the way to do it is to strike gold with some of these, low-salary players.

Eli Manning, $6,400 and Larry Donnell, $3,800: The Redskins have the 32nd-ranked pass defense per PFF, which isn't bad until you remember there are only 32 teams in the NFL. Eli threw three first-half TDs to Donnell in their first meeting. As cheap pairings go, it doesn't get much better than this. I'll have Eli and Donnell in some lineups, just Eli in others (or Eli and ODB), and just Donnell in others (remember how Coby Fleener ran roughshod over the Redskins a few weeks ago?).

Philip Rivers, $6,200: The Chargers can be maddening for DFS because, if they're winning or the game is close, they love ball-control, clock-killing drives that suck the fantasy goodness from all players on both teams. If they're behind, though, as they certainly could be this week against Denver, Rivers at $6,200 will be an insane bargain. Pair him with Keenan Allen at $6,000 or Antonio Gates at $4,500 in GPP and hope for 300 yards and 3 TDs.

Kyle Orton, $5,500: Orton had 25 fantasy points on DraftKings last week in Denver, and I see little reason why this week's game flow will be much different. Green Bay will get an early lead and Buffalo will be throwing much of the second half. If that doesn't convince you, look at Orton's Week 6 line against New England - 299 yards and 2 TDs, good for 20 fantasy points. It's not sexy, but I'll take 20 FP from my $5,500 QB any day. Yes, I'll be playing Orton in plenty of Millionaire lineups.

Jeremy Hill, $4,300: 22 running backs are more expensive than Hill this week, including teammate Giovani Bernard. Everywhere I look, though, Hill is ranked higher than 22nd this week. Plus, word is that Hill will start getting even more of the Bengals RB touches, as he's been better than Gio in 2014. Hill has as much two-TD upside as any back I've seen under $5K this week.

Latavius Murray, $4,000: Murray is dominating the Raiders' backfield touches and had two TDs on just four carries against the Chiefs just a few weeks ago. I'm predicting a big Chiefs bounce-back here, probably even a blowout, but even with adverse game flow, Murray is so cheap, and getting all the touches, it's hard not to play him.

Chris Ivory, $4,200 and Chris Johnson, $3,600: The Titans are an abomination on defense in every way. Many experts are touting Johnson in a revenge game against his former team, but Ivory might be the better play since he'll be much less owned and may be more likely to get the goal-line looks. Heck, I could see starting both in the same lineup - the Titans are that bad, and the Jets proved on Monday night two weeks ago that they'll keep running if it's working.

Nate Washington, $4,300: We've been picking on the Jets secondary all season, why stop now? Washington's price is a little higher than I'd like for a pick I'd characterize as a flyer, but that might keep his ownership rate low. 100 yards and a TD are well within reach.

Donte Moncrief, $4,000: Though Moncrief's playing time (and, hence, production) has been inconsistent, his two huge games are just what you want in GPP. The problem is that while I've been on Moncrief most of the year, many others are joining the bandwagon, particularly with Reggie Wayne playing so poorly. Even with the higher-than-I'd-like ownership rates, I can't pass on Moncrief in a game the Colts will score and the Texans might force them to go away from T.Y. Hilton, as Hilton killed the Texans earlier this year.

Marqise Lee, $3,600: The Ravens allow nothing on the ground and Denard Robinson is now out for the year, so if the Jaguars do anything on offense this week, it will be through the air. After struggling most of the year, Lee has been the Jags best receiver the past two weeks, 5-67-0 and 6-75-1, but his price is still low because he hasn't had a huge, breakout game yet. Against a bottom-five Ravens secondary, that breakout could come this week.

Marquess Wilson, Nick Toon, Markus Wheaton, and Terrance Williams, $3,000: Which minimum-salary WR do you like? Everyone in the industry is suggesting Wilson, and with good reason - he's going to get a lot of looks for Chicago against a bad Saints defense. Wilson's ownership rates, though, will be sky-high. If you're looking to zig where everyone else is zagging (probably necessary to win a big tournament) check out Toon, Wheaton, or Williams. Toon has more competition for touches than Wilson, but he's shown signs of life the past few weeks and gets an inept Bears defense. Williams has done nothing in recent games, but if he's ever going to revert to his early-season form, why not this week against the Eagles? Wheaton has taken a back seat to Martavis Bryant, but Wheaton is still getting playing time, and the matchup with the Falcons this week is ideal. Wilson is the best play of these four for cash games, but I can easily see one of the other three winding up as the right play for a big tournament.

Scott Chandler, $3,400: Orton and Chandler together? Seriously? That's the antithesis of sexy, true. But nobody will be doing it, and look at Chandler's output the two games that set up similarly to this week's tilt with the Packers: 8-81 at Denver last week, and 6-105 in Week 6 against the Pats. It's not hard to see a similar line this week as the Bills play catch-up against Aaron Rodgers & Company. For $3,400? Count me in.

Dwayne Allen, $3,400: Allen has 6 games this year where he scored between 13 and 16 fantasy points on DraftKings. If he can make it a 7th time this Sunday (basically, by scoring a touchdown), he'd be a fine return for $3,400. I like his chances against a bad Texans pass defense that may be rolling coverage to Hilton.

New York defenses: I'm playing the expensive defenses this week in most of my lineups - the Ravens at home against the Jags and the Seahawks at home against the Niners are just too appetizing. If you're looking to save salary here, though, I like the Giants at $3,100 against a bad Redskins team likely missing DeSean Jackson again or a Jets defense at $2,900 against a Titans offense that resembles a CFL team.

Happy gaming, friends.